Gallery: Solar Sunflower Field Energizes Austin, Texas

solar flowers, blue led, sunflowers, mueller, austin
 

A retail lot in Austin, Texas recently sprouted a stunning field of solar sunflowers that soak up the sun’s rays to provide shade while generating a steady stream of renewable energy. Designed by public art team Harries/Heder, the installation consists of 15 flower-like solar photovoltaic panels located on a pedestrian and bike path between the village of Mueller and Austin’s highway I-35. According to Harries/Heder, the flowers are “an icon for the sustainable, LEED certified Mueller Development and a highly visible metaphor for the energy conscious City of Austin.”

When construction on Mueller, a mixed-use urban village in Austin, Texas first began nearly a decade ago, developers set up a number of environmental and aesthetic rules to safeguard the green spaces and keep the town from taking on an industrial feel. So when a massive retail lot was proposed, Mueller agreed to let it be built on one condition: loading docks behind the stores had to be covered up. Enter Sunflowers, An Electric Garden — Austin’s largest public art installation.

In addition to providing shade for walkers and bikers, the solar flowers collect energy during the day to power the installation’s blue LED lights at night. Leftover power is sent to the grid to offset the cost of maintaining the installation. If only every city required industrial sites to be covered up with similar art projects!

+ Harries/Heder

Via GOOD

Photos by David Newsom

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17 Comments

  1. pcmxhl August 6, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Gratifying
    I’m contemporary here and I hope that the vehemence determination I be accepted.
    Silence learning English communication so please bear with us.
    At a stroke again, accepted and greet all

  2. Solar Powered Flower Sc... August 31, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    [...] to add some solar-powered flare to your boring backyard? This gigantic energy-generating flower sculpture by id&@le concepts may be just the ticket. Dubbed the Gul Two, the brightly-hued blossom is [...]

  3. greenguy January 22, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    PV is only one possible solar application. Austin Energy’s best kept secret is solar thermal rebates. Solar water heating for residences and solar process heat for commercial businesses. The technology is mature and is already viable economically. Austin solar

  4. solardude September 7, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Some opinions and hearsay for what its worth.

    As I work in the solar industry in Austin, I can tell you that these solar flowers produce a tiny amount of energy and will not likely ever offset the energy used to fabricate and install them in the next 20 years. The PV modules themselves at best will take 3 years just to off set their own manufacturing let alone their shipping or installation. It is positive publicity for the development and so to it is for the industry as a whole. However, amongst contractors, the project is viewed as a bit, well, wasteful. I feel comfortable “calling out” the project because it will only hurt the industry to have poor installs, unproductive installs or installs that are wasteful in the long term. It is important for the subsidization of this industry to not be looked back upon as government waste or profiteering by private companies. This type of critical scrutiny at this early stage is healthy for us as Austin is talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years on renewable energy infrastructure.

    This project of flowers that will take a generation to pay for itself that money could have kept open the pools that were closed down this summer because of budget shortfalls. More panels could have been included in the massive support structure and they weren’t. We need to spend money on the renewable energy industry, but responsibly.

    Well that is my two cents. On the other hand, it is a beautiful photo shoot and I must say Austin could use a lot more aesthetic upgrades to its commercial areas like this one.

    Regarding the “green-ness” of the development, the houses have many dormers and vent penetrations that prevent large scale installation of solar arrays on the roof, oops. This has been pointed out to the builders and some measures are being taken in the homes slated for construction. Also, some of the homes do not have proper insulation or attic venting and are having issues with ultra high energy bills. Also the amount of locally own buisness slated to be in Muller are far less than actually moved into those spaces that are up and running, like the big box stores.

    That being said, these mistakes are fine, in fact they are great, as this development was intended to be a test bed. Its when these mistakes are hidden by companies or individuals that we will miss the boat. The Pecan Street Project looks like it is going to dump something like 25 mil into Muller to test smart grid implementation so we have a lot we are putting on the line.

    My point in all is that mistakes have been made and we have to put them in the light so we can benefit from these huge expenditures. Otherwise its just going to be the same old private profiteering off of gov’t financed projects. Got to keep us contractors honest. All the best and as long as I’m giving unsolicited advice, get solar on your homes, it’ll never be as affordable as it is today with the combined subsidies and the price plummet in the PV market due to the halt of EU solar subsidies during the banking crisis and the subsequent flood of undersold panels on the market currently.

  5. badgirl August 20, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Solar cells on the roofs of every new structure would go a long way to providing electricity for every structure built. Sell back to the grid as possible. Fossil fuels equal saved sunlight. Is there a more obvious solution to energy needs and environmental degradation (other than massive depopulation of the planet).

  6. Tali August 19, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Really cool looking structures, but I do wonder how efficient they really are if they cannot track. There is a company that manufactures a solar structure in the shape of a tree that does track. The company is Solaire Generation and you can check them out here: http://www.buildaroo.com/2009/07/29/solaire-really-cool-carports-for-really-cool-cars/
    What’s even cooler about their structure is that they have outlets on the “trunk” area so that you can sit underneath and power your laptop.

  7. Ryan August 18, 2009 at 11:19 am

    @un_vanya
    My information is purely from personal experience, and it sounds like you’ve been much more involved in the process, so I apologize if I’m misinformed. I’ve actually been thinking about Mueller a lot since reading this yesterday and I’m actually thinking about trying to organize and post my thoughts about them in the next day or two. Basically, I feel like there are a lot of things that Mueller did well, but I feel like there were also a lot of missed opportunities.

    @BNielsen
    Thanks! That is exactly the type of information I wish there was more of in the discussions of sustainable projects. Where did you get the rated output of the panels? I suspect when you factor in transportation, welding, batteries, concrete, etc that repayment period increases but you’re right – 30 years was highly exaggerated.

  8. BNielsen August 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    @kerinin

    Based on a 2000 study on energy requirements to produce steel at Carnegie Mellon University, 65% average recycled steel rate, 12 foot tall supports and what appears to be approximately W14X84 84lb/ft steel I-beams, the energy to manufacture each support beam is on the order of 3.77 Gj.

    Each flower is rated at 1000 Watts, assuming an average of 5.5 hours each day of sunlight 365 days/year each flower will produce about 7.23 Gj/year of energy. Each flower will easily reproduce the energy required for the manufacturing processes in the first year. Most solar panels are rated with a 20 year usable life span but in reality will go well beyond 20 years but with a reduced solar conversion efficiency.

    Of course this is a rough estimate and it doesn’t include the energy to produce the panels, however, its not likely to be anywhere near the energy needed to produce the steel and over the life time of the panels the energy they produce will be at the very least an order of magnitude more than the energy required to manufacture and likely much more.

  9. BNielsen August 17, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    @Ryan

    Based on a 2000 study on energy requirements to produce steel at Carnegie Mellon University, 65% average recycled steel rate, 12 foot tall supports and what appears to be approximately W14X84 84lb/ft steel I-beams, the energy to manufacture each support beam is on the order of 3.77 Gj.

    Each flower is rated at 1000 Watts, assuming an average of 5.5 hours each day of sunlight 365 days/year each flower will produce about 7.23 Gj/year of energy. Each flower will easily reproduce the energy required for the manufacturing processes in the first year. Most solar panels are rated with a 20 year usable life span but in reality will go well beyond 20 years but with a reduced solar conversion efficiency.

    Of course this is a rough estimate and it doesn’t include the energy to produce the panels, however, its not likely to be anywhere near the energy needed to produce the steel and over the life time of the panels the energy they produce will be at the very least an order of magnitude more than the energy required to manufacture and likely much more.

  10. un_vanya August 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    @kerinin
    I agree with you on the “sunflowers” — when I first saw them, I did not think they were attractive. Super-saturated artsy photos make them look much better.

    But where did you get your information on the Mueller development? My spouse works in one of the office buildings there, and I attended a couple of planning meetings for the development, and have read a fair amount it. It is not homogeneously single-family, is not single-use, and I don’t know that I would even call the shopping area a “strip mall.” There are some interesting sustainability components. There is a fair amount of clever design and evidence of more than just symbolic attempts to be green, efficient, etc..

    Sounds like you’re complaining about some other development, or are overreaching with your dismissive generalizations. I don’t think it’s perfect or all good, by any means, but I question your familiarity with the development or scope of the project.

  11. pneese August 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I live in Austin as well. From a design aspect, they really do not blend with the other structures Mueller is building nor do they emulate nature to alleviate that industrial look. Did they reuse steel from something else to construct these? I’m definitely not a fan of the look. Why blue sunflowers? I’m for solar power projects, but maybe use nature to give that natural look and place the technology on the buildings in areas that are not seen but can still be used for solar energy.

    As Ryan stated…they do not track. I have not heard how many watts they produce either. You know what would help also? Solar cells on the roofs of the new concrete/steel buildings. Roof top gardens. Not directing traffic an extra mile through the Shopping area to get to Cameron after they blocked off an intersection at 51st. :)

  12. ryotrellim August 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I completely agree with Ryan. The solar panels would be far more efficient and cost effective on the roof of the massive consumer structures. However, on the roof, these panels wouldn’t be nearly as visible. From I-35. In you car. Eating gasoline.

  13. GreenEscapee August 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    OMFG!

    @kerinin – Please report, immediately, to your nearest green washing re-education camp. Isn’t it obvious that these “beautiful” sun flowers are the first step toward saving us all, freeing us from some form of evil manipulator and the general betterment of unicorns everywhere? Why do you hate America?

    All kidding aside, it is refreshing to see someone throw a cold splash of realism onto one of these green washing PR stunts. The sun flowers aren’t don;t produce enough electricity to even light the Marshall’s department store that they are behind.

  14. aastinko August 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Oh wow, that seems pretty logical to me dude!

    RT

  15. Ryan August 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    They don’t track.

  16. Bridgette Meinhold Bridgette Meinhold August 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Does anyone know if these track the sun? I think it’s a brilliant design – sexy, design-worthy, not to mention functional.

  17. kerinin August 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    As a resident of Austin, I would just like to point out that the images shown here are slightly disingenuous; the ‘flowers’ are located between the blank rear end of a Marshall’s and I-35, the major highway which runs through Austin. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any pedestrians luxuriating in the shade of these things, and I would imaging that it will take about 30 years for any power generated by them to offset the embodied energy in the enormous steel apparatus which supports them.

    At best, these are sculptural elements (they are indeed quite striking), at worst they are an attempt at greenwashing – as the designer states, a “a highly visible metaphor “.

    The Mueller development itself is (IMHO) an example of the worst type of new urbanism; a large tract of property converted into single-family housing adjacent to a strip mall which hosts a Best Buy, Marshalls, and various other big box retail outlets. If we’re going to discuss sustainable urban environments, I don’t see how putting homogenous housing closer to big box retailers is really relevant (not that sustainable urbanism was the subject of this post, of course).

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